‘Only If You’re Lucky’ by Stacy Willingham – Book Review

A Bloated Thriller Saved By An Excellent Ending

Only If You’re Lucky is the latest thriller from Stacy Willingham, armed with an enticing plot, some interesting characters and a very, very bloated length. Even at 380 pages, this novel suffers from an immense amount of padding and no amount of excellent prose and great descriptive writing (which this book has in abundance) can avoid how much of a slog this feels to get through at times.

Fresh off the success of last year’s All The Dangerous Things, there’s undoubtedly a lot of excitement going into this project – especially from this reviewer too! The story is undoubtedly enticing, taking elements of stories like Big Little Lies and spinning that into a modified college-styled plot with an air of psychological thrill for good measure.

This is undoubtedly intense at times and the final act of the book has some top-notch reveals and excellent pacing. It’s just a pity then that it takes around 270 pages before this one really starts to pick up and get going.

At the center of this story is a young woman called Margot. After the tragic passing of her old friend Eliza, Margot packs up her things (along with her previous baggage of her best friend’s death) and heads off to college.

Once there, she immediately finds herself ensnared in the grip of an alluring new girl called Lucy. Lucy is joined by two other girls, Sloane and Nicole, and the four form an unlikely friendship. As Margot starts to get to know the girls – especially Lucy – she realizes that there are more secrets here that she’s only just starting to understand.

Interwoven around these “Before” chapters are parts of a tale that occur “After” a big event. This includes Lucy missing and a boy from the frat house next door, Kappa Nu, dead.  But what happened? Who’s dead? And where is Lucy? All of those answers and more will be revealed!

The story jumps back and forth between the two time periods, with the “After” chapters used as a recap of sorts to reinforce details we’re drip-fed through the “Before” portions. This is undeniably a slow burn and at times, it’s far too slow for the reveals we eventually get.

To be fair to Stacy Willingham, she pulls off a cracking ending to this one that will leave You satisfied and glad you held out hope for a sizzling finale. That’s definitely here. Even better, there’s a nice thematic punch to round everything out, reinforcing that idea of friendships and, specifically, that bond between women that’s so mysterious and somewhat of an enigma to the opposite sex.

Speaking of which, there are clear divides here between men and women, with almost every male character in the book portrayed as horrible, nasty or outright repulsive. There’s nothing wrong with that, given the perspective of the book, and as you start to learn more about Margot and the gang, it actually adds a nice narrative weight to the tale that I’m sure will be more effective the second time through.

However, the story does have a lot of lulls. There’s an awful lot of padding in this one that makes for a very difficult binge-read. While the chapters are short (there’s over 60 in here!) to help try and alleviate this, the plot details are spread so thin that by the halfway point, you may feel like giving up. It’s highly advised that you don’t though. That ending is a great one, with some lovely twists that you’re unlikely to see coming.

Only If You’re Lucky could very easily have been dropped down to just under 300 pages and in doing so, could have been one of the top thrillers of the year. Instead, this is a decent thriller stretched too thinly, saved by an excellent ending and some beautifully written prose. It’s certainly not a bad thriller, but it could have been so much more.

 

Only If You’re Lucky releases on 16th January 2024 in the US and 1st February 2024 in the UK.

Our thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins for the advanced reader’s copy!


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